Regular physical activity can be beneficial for managing and preventing varicose veins. But depending on your symptoms, running and other high impact exercise may worsen pain and discomfort.

Varicose veins, especially in the legs, are a common condition. While exercise is often recommended to prevent varicose veins or existing ones from worsening, some forms of exercise may do more harm than good.

Running and other high impact activities can cause pain and discomfort in some people with varicose veins.

Here’s a closer look at how running affects varicose veins and alternative forms of exercise to consider trying.

So far, there’s not enough scientific evidence to suggest running can directly cause varicose veins. That said, some experts theorize that high impact physical activity like running — especially on a hard surface like pavement — can worsen existing varicose veins or increase your chances of developing new ones.

As phlebologist Lawrence Presant, MD, explains, “What we know about running is that the foot strikes the ground with tremendous force, and that force is transmitted up the leg, and it can affect the tiny valves in the veins.”

But that doesn’t mean running will contribute to varicose veins in everyone. But, Presant notes, running may have more of an impact on people with a higher risk of varicose veins due to genetics or prior vein damage.

If you’re unsure, Presant recommends limiting or avoiding running if you have an increased risk of developing varicose veins. Sticking with low impact activities can help you reap the benefits of exercise without putting extra pressure on your legs.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute states that intense or strenuous physical exercise might worsen varicose veins, something Presant echoes.

“Any high impact sport or exercise that causes an increase in pressure [can] worsen existing varicose veins,” he says.

Keep in mind that high impact exercise isn’t the only factor that can make varicose veins worse. Other factors that impact varicose vein severity include:

  • age
  • having overweight or obesity
  • genetics
  • standing or sitting for long periods
  • vascular diseases, such as deep vein thrombosis

Listen to your body if you’re on the fence about whether running is right for you. If you experience pain or discomfort while running, consider trying a lower-impact activity. You might also consider wearing compression socks, which some people find helpful, especially while exercising.

Yes, exercise is still a very beneficial activity for managing and preventing varicose veins. Regular exercise can:

All of the above can improve vein health.

To avoid issues, it may be best to stick to lower-impact exercises such as:

Not sure where to start? In Presant’s view, walking is one of the “best exercises to avoid varicose veins since it is a low impact exercise that promotes blood flow.

Even if you don’t have a regular exercise routine, moving around as often as possible can be beneficial. Simply getting up to stretch or walk around the house every hour or so can help boost blood flow.

Though running might not be the best option for those with varicose veins, exercise is still beneficial.

To help make exercising more comfortable with varicose veins, try:

  • sticking to low impact exercises, such as walking or swimming
  • wearing compression socks
  • staying hydrated as you exercise
  • elevating your legs after exercising
  • wearing comfortable, supportive shoes.

These measures can boost blood flow and ease any discomfort caused by varicose veins.

“Regular exercise and avoiding heavy weight gain will lessen the likelihood of worsening varicose veins,” Presant advises. Even though it’s not clear exactly to what degree compression socks help, their purpose “is to facilitate and accelerate blood flow out of the leg.”

Regular exercise can be beneficial for managing and preventing varicose veins. But high impact activities, such as running, may have the opposite effect. If you have varicose veins and find running painful, consider switching to a lower-impact exercise, like walking or swimming.